WWOOF-ing in Dabovo!

Have you ever wanted to break out of your element and try something different and exciting?  Well that is exactly what Angel, the girls and I had in store for us when we decided to become WWOOF volunteers for a week. For those of you who are unfamiliar with WWOOF, it is an acronym for WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms, the specifics of the the opportunity are discussed directly between the host and the volunteer. Usually in exchange for a few hours of work (manual labor) per day, they provide you with room and board for a specific period of time. This organization operates all over the world with specific countries or regions having their own sites, which provide you with a list of hosts in that particular country or region.  Being that we are living in Bulgaria, we became members of WWOOF Bulgaria, for a small fee.  Each country has different membership fees or some are free.
Once we became members, Angel and I read through all the host profiles to find people who could offer us the experiences we were looking for and who we think we would be compatible with.  We were looking to learn about wine and winemaking, organically if possible. Angel and I are rather moderate and easy going. Some of the hosts offered a more rustic and natural experience, but we wanted flushing toilet and shower access, plus people who weren’t living a strict lifestyle, like no alcohol etc… (after a hard days work I need a cold beer) We were also looking for people with children, so our girls wouldn’t be bored.  We finally found the perfect hosts, so we contacted them and hoped they would like us too.  We had exchanged some e-mails and few phone calls and we were set.

Our hosts would be Jo, an amazing artist and printmaker and Grahaem a talented winemaker, plus their two daughters.  Both are passionate about food, wine and clean living. In Bulgaria, they are working on becoming international garlic mavens.
In the car driving to Bulgaria’s Valley of the Roses, near Kazanlak, is where you can find Dabovo and I was a little nervous about spending 10 days with virtual strangers.  When we arrived, the girls all got along well right off the bat, but I had little doubt about how they would spend the week.  
The girls being silly at the river.
Our first task was to set up our abode for the next 10 nights, which was something I was really looking forward to… sleeping in a tent! Seriously, I wanted to unplug from life under the stars, which were gorgeous by the way.
Tent sweet tent!
The work that Angel and I did was divide along sexual boundaries, the men did the heavy lifting and we did the women’s work, which I didn’t mind because it was hot as hell and I have no idea how to put a roof on a barn, but peeling garlic that was a tedious task, which turned into a slight compulsion during our stay.
The barn
The guys up on the roof
Jo and Grahaem, had planted 5 decacres of garlic that need to be sorted, broken down and peeled. I spent most of my time peeling loose cloves of garlic. I couldn’t keep my hands off the stuff.  I even developed garlic calluses. What are those you ask?  Well, the first few days the garlic juice burned the skin underneath my nails particularly my thumb nail, which was my primary peeling tool.  By the third day a protective barrier had formed under my nail and it hurt no more. I am not a masochist, but there was something very zen about peeling the garlic.  Once I establish a rhythm the hour zoomed by. The fruits of my labor would eventually be smoked or if it was substandard, pureed to make an organic anti-fungal garden solution.
Jo sorting garlic.
Me sitting in a chair peeling garlic… you can see my feet!
Loose garlic for peeling.
Early on the boys decided to switch their focus from the barn roof to building a cold smoker for the garlic.  Jo found some interesting instructions on-line and the boys managed to recycle an old wardrobe for the body of the smoker… it was quite stylish! The process was long and a bit complicated as they were trying to be cost effective with the build, but the results were fantastic.
Grahaem hard at work.
The left side of the wardrobe is for smoking the garlic, the right side could be used to hand or dry garlic, cheese, meats… endless possibilities!
The burning basket for wood chips.
The 22lb (10kg) of garlic that I peeled.  You don’t realize how much that really is.
A tower of garlic ready to be smoked!
Stoking the flames with Angel’s favorite fire tool… the air pump.
Both Angel and I are really glad that we gave the WWOOF-ing experience a try.  We made some great new friends and learned some new things about garlic, construction and permaship.  Our real interest was learning about winemaking, which we did during our evening conversations over some fantastic food and wine. We now know that our next adventure is going to be working a wine harvest in California next year from August to December.  We tried to find a position this year, but our time frame wasn’t flexible enough to accommodate the vineyards.
If you are interested in garlic, you can find them at Tears of Orpheus, your one stop shop for all you organic garlic needs, plus a gorgeous smoked garlic to really add a kick to any meal.  You can shop online and view their products here.  If you become a “Liker” on their Facebook page, you get a discount!

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Healthy Living Shop: Lozenetz

I first became aware of the Здравословен Живот or Healthy Living shop while driving around on Bogatitza Street trying to avoid the Chern Vrach traffic.  I made a mental note of its location, which is easy to remember because it is situated behind Skank South Park Bar and Dinner.  While I forgot about this place for a while, I was reminded to check them out when I saw their booth set up at Sofia’s Green Days.

I had a bit of a funny incident while trying to find parking for this place, which is a big problem.  The parking situation is awful.  I managed to find a spot which was tight and on a hill so, it needed my insane parallel parking skills, but I happened to be multitasking talking on the phone and I forgot to keep my car in gear and put on the parking break… oops!  So as I am leaving the car, hanging up my phone, I see my car starting to roll down the hill… headed for a large, expensive, black SUV (a.k.a Mutri mobile), so I open the car, jump in and yank the hand break as hard as I could… narrowly avoiding and sticky situation.  I felt like I was in a movie and I was pumped with adrenaline.  Anyway… back to the shop!

The entrance to the shop is situated a little below street level, but there are plenty of signs.

They carry fresh produce, bread and other perishable items.
They also have a large selection of cosmetics and hygiene products as well as stuff for babies.
They carry Emile Henry cookware, which I am coveting.
And many varieties of flours, grains and legumes, plus other groceries such as Weet-bix and miso soup

You can find the Healthy Living shop in Lozenetz, Jilishtna Group “South Park” Bldg. 27 Kozyak Street (Behind South Park Bar and Dinner) Tel: +359 882 828 828.  They host events at the shop like wine tasting, so Become a fan on Facebook to keep up to date.

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Natural All-Purpose Cleaner

I am a bit of a clean freak, but my house is a total wreck 90% of the time… toys, clutter, laundry, etc…  For me, knowing that things are deep-down clean is what I obsess about.  The clutter or mess that is just resting on the surface, I can live with.

I am a big fan of all-purpose cleaners.  Back in the US, I was fond of the Method cleaners that they sold at Target, which I now think have a wider availability.  I felt good about using these, especially with having two small kids running around.

Fast forward three and a half years, in Bulgaria, I have been using any industrial all-purpose cleaner that is available and I feel like a bit of a hypocrite.  I grow my own veggies, make mostly everything from scratch, I make my own neem insecticidal spray for my garden, yet I slather my home in chemicals.  Well, that stops right now!

I did some research on different recipes for a natural all-purpose cleaner and found one that I liked at Elizabeth Redmond’s Green Options.  The only problem was finding borax in Bulgaria. I did a little googling to find out that borax is the same word in Bulgarian, боракс and it is available at most pharmacies (аптека)  The cost for 20g of borax at my pharmacy in Kyustendil was .55 ст. 
Then add water, vinegar and essential oil in a clean bottle and voila! I am looking at a real savings in total by making my own and it take all of 2 minutes to prepare.  A bottle of all-purpose cleaner from Kaufland can cost anywhere from 2.00 – 5.00 leva depending on the brand. Recycling one of my commercial cleansing bottles (500 ml), I divided the original recipe in half and found my two favorite essential oils: lavender and lily of the valley.
  • 1 – 1.5 t Borax
  • 1T – 1.5T Distilled vinegar (recommended) or white wine vinegar
  • 500ml Warm water (give or take, depending on the size of your bottle)

Pour borax and vinegar into the bottle.  Swirl or shake to dissolve.  Add warm water, not too hot or it will warp the bottle.  Give a good shake to see that the borax has dissolved completely.
I increased the amount of vinegar when I we got a puppy to deal with the urine/ammonia smell.  It works well. I have been using it for two years now and I have no intention of going back.
The result: my granite counters were in need of a serious cleaning.  My sister and I had been cooking all weekend and things had gotten a bit scary.  I was satisfied with the result, the grease and other stains were removed easily, although I think I used a few too many drops of essential oil, like 20 instead of 10, so there was a bit of an oily film, which I wiped away with a clean and dry dish towel and it gave a great shine. You can see the reflection of my over head light in the countertop.  What more could you ask for!
If you have an all-purpose recipe that you would recommend, please let me know.  I am up for experimenting with something new.  Also, I am looking for something a bit more abrasive to tackle my glass stove top.  Any suggestions?

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Sofia’s Green Days 2010

I would have never have found out about Green Days in Sofia, if it wasn’t for Latty Boncheva, who worked at My Organic Market. I was traipsing around Sofia looking for interesting topics for the blog, when she mention the event, which intrigued me because I am always looking to find out about new companies and products that are available in Bulgaria.

The events and sponsors!

The festivities started with traditional Bulgarian folk music and dance, the horo. For those of you who are not familiar with Bulgarian culture, please check out these two videos.
Singing traditional Bulgarian folk music.
Once the music start the horo is never far behind
After the music, Emily (my sister) and I wandered around in the rain checking out some of the booths. Food wise, there were few things that I hadn’t already heard of. I even ran into Dessislava Dimitrova the head of Slow Food in Bulgaria.
Instead of providing a long commentary on each of the booths I visited, I will give a short description and a link to their side as well as their addresses, with one exception, Faith in Nature. 
This company was handing out free samples of some of their natural cosmetic produces. One of the samples that my sister received was Feminine Wash. I just want to say that I am completely against the idea of feminine wash. The fact that companies believe that woman need to by a separate cleanser specifically for their vagina’s is absurd. When is the last time you’ve seen penis or testicle wash?

Moving on! I did try all of the samples that I received: Hemp and Meadow foam Shampoo, Conditioner and Lavender and Geranium Body Wash. Overall, I was happy with everything, but I missed the lathery, foamy feeling of the shampoo. You can find there product in many organic, bio-shops in through out Sofia. I have a list, but they are over 20 shops. For those of you who aren’t Bulgarian or live in Bulgaria, feel free to skim through the rest.

If you like pizza then check out Тумба-Тан (Tumba-Tan). There are one of the first, if not the first organic pizza restaurant in Sofia, plus they deliver. Not everything on their menu is organic, but they identify which are the organic products… and they have whole-wheat crust, which is a rarity in Bulgaria. For delivery call: +359 871 0606

Slow Food products were represented, such as Smilyan Beans and Meurche.

Some fliers were distributed about fighting the GMO ingredients in Bulgaria. For more information visit www.bezgmo.info
SIGG had some products on display. I have to make time to pick up some of their ECO-logical water bottles. www.sigg.bg

Enza Zaden, a seed breeding company had a booth that had live bees, which have been breed to pollinate green house vegetables. They are located at: Tzalapitza, m. Cherhota  № 135 А Tel: +359 314 92 117/ +359 32 94 20 99 (с. Цалапица м. “Чернота” № 135 А Тел: +359 314 92 117/ +359 32 94 20 99)

The bees!
Another great booth was Био Свят/ Bio Sviat, which translates to bio world. I got a free sample of Rabenhorst Red Grape Juice, was tasty, but too sugary for me. They distribute many of the wonderful organic products, which are available in Bulgaria. Although their website is only in Bulgaria, you can purchase items online! Tel: +359 2 955 9501or email: info@biosviat.com
While driving around Lozenetz, I came across Здравословен Живот or Healthy Living.  I intend on writing a proper post about this organic/bio supermarket, but this will have to do for the moment.  They are located in Lozenetz, off Kozyak Street. block 27, near bar/restaurant South Park. Tel +359 2 963 02 82, Email: info@zdravosloven.com
Organic store Zoya, which carries mostly cosmetics, but some food products as well.  www.zoya.bg.  They don’t have a shop, but a showroom in Sofia on 6 Graf Ignatiev Street, Entrance A.  Tel: +359 899 884 115
You can find Himalayan salt crystals at 22 William Gladstone Street, Tel: +359 887 641 711
There were some activist at Za Da Ostane Priroda (За Да Остане ПРИРОДА) interested in preserving Bulgaria’s natural areas, which are constantly under attack from developers and corrupt politicians. For more information please visit www.forthenature.org
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